Most freshmen football players dread training camp. There’s plenty to dislike: getting yelled at by coaches, the long hours, two practices a day, getting beat up by the upperclassmen.
But at Air Force, football is a light at the end of the tunnel. Whatever mental and physical anguish they face in training camp is a lot better than what they go through in Jacks Valley over the summer during basic training.
“The whole time we’re going through basic, we’re just thinking about putting the pads on,” said running back Cody Getz, who played in eight games as a freshman last year. “It’s refreshing putting the pads on. The freshmen usually like it, because you can take out some anger.”
Even though football is better than basic training, freshmen come into camp physically taxed. Other incoming freshmen can spend the summer getting into football shape. In some ways it’s tougher for Air Force to get freshmen to make an instant impact, or at least more difficult to predict which ones won’t hit the wall right away.
“For the freshmen that come to practice with the varsity right from the get-go, coming right out of basic training you don’t have your legs under you and you’ve lost a lot of strength,” quarterback Tim Jefferson said. “It’s tough to compete, but you’ve got to grind your way through it.”
As for the mental part, Air Force doesn’t slow down for freshmen. Their schemes are almost completely installed in the first five days of camp.
“It’s like a fire hose,” Jefferson said. “You’ve got everything coming at you at one time. You have to grasp what you can.”
Despite the obstacles, the Falcons had 20 freshmen play last year, three more than any other team in the nation (Tulane was 17). Most of the freshmen didn’t contribute all season, making just a cameo appearance in a blowout against Nicholls State, but two (linebackers Alex Means and Wale Lawal Jr.) started last year. Only 35 teams in the nation had two or more freshmen start a game.
Air Force doesn’t use redshirts – that is one reason so many freshmen played last year, because there’s no reason to conserve their eligibility – but the Falcons do have the prep school.
When there is a year between high school and the academy, it can help the transition.
“I learned all the basic offense, so my freshman year I had a grasp of the offense when I came here,” Jefferson said. “The others that come in right away, they have to learn all the code words and all the formations.”
This year, another class of freshmen could contribute a lot.
The coaching staff hopes about 10 freshmen are physically and mentally fresh enough by the start of the season to at least play some special teams.
If not, they can take comfort in the fact that the coaching staff realizes whatever contributions freshmen make are a bonus.
“The biggest thing for a freshman is realizing now is not everything,” coach Troy Calhoun said.
“There’s guys who when they were freshmen never even had a practice rep, guys like Jared Tew or Kevin Fogler, who really became good players.”